What I Did Last Summer

Dear Readers,

Is the end of summer leaving you feeling sad and melancholy? Do you wish you could begin summer all over? Do you dread having to wear clothes again and going back to school? Worse, are you worried about that perennial first assignment, “What I Did Last Summer”?

You are not alone.

When you’re an author, and you haven’t written a single word all summer on account of you were taking a break from authoring, you feel this way too.  Now It’s time for me to put my clothes on and go back to work. But first, let me tell you What I Did Last Summer. Maybe it’ll give you some ideas to use in your own essay 😉 —

First I got on a plane.

Nineteen hours later . . . I got off the plane — in a daze — in a place far away, where you can get a coffee massage at the airport. IMG_6665Welcome to Shanghai!

Don’t want to be massaged with coffee? There was art at the airport too: IMG_6663Lots of sculptures like the one above, looked you smack in the eye as you headed for the metro:IMG_6668The Shanghai Metro has 12 lines and 300 stations, and covers 287 miles. It is the second longest metro system in the world. IMG_6666How I figured out where I was going, I have no idea. Like I said, I was in a sleep-and-calorie-deprived daze. All I know is that I got a ticket and hopped on the next train, where this little girl was tormenting her grandparents to no end:IMG_6670A little while later, I popped out of the Metro and into the middle of Shanghai:IMG_6671IMG_6677Hey, how did that happen?

I walked down the street and straight into my hotel,IMG_6678where they were waiting for me at the front door. “Your bags will be waiting for you in your room, Madam.” No problem. I understood that perfectly! This is what it looked like inside:IMG_6700This was my home for two days:IMG_6679IMG_6681Pretty fancy digs, right?

I hurried out to look for dinner. I was STARVED!!! And this was the scene right outside my hotel: IMG_6691IMG_6687IMG_6696There were people everywhere! Facciamo una passaggiata! And groups of people dancing all over the place.

Unfortunately, there was no place to eat but here:IMG_6690Ugh. I hate food courts. This wasn’t here the last time I was in Shanghai in 2001. Back then, there were little noodle shops with steaming bowls of dumplings and handmade noodles all over the place on Nanjingdonglu (Nanjing Road East). Now there are large malls and big clothing stores and a mega Apple store. It felt like Times Square in NYC. It was really disappointing. My meal was unremarkable so I didn’t take a photo of it.

The next day I popped out of bed, ate sushi for breakfast, and jumped into the Shanghai Metro hole again to go here:IMG_6706It’s the China Art Museum in Shanghai. This is their new building, opened in 2012. From afar it looks like the  Chinese character, hua, which means China, magnificent, splendid, flowery. It was every bit that.

You need to ride this very scary escalator to reach the galleries:IMG_6708It was very tall. It gave me vertigo.

Once I made it inside, I was okay. And here are some of the art that I saw: IMG_6750IMG_6752IMG_6755IMG_6713IMG_6758 That’s a painting of Albert Einstein, above, on the morning he won the Nobel Prize. He was in Shanghai when the prize was announced.

Some more modern stuff:IMG_6789IMG_6799IMG_6819IMG_6787  Do you like what you see? It’s a carefully curated collection. All museums are carefully curated, of course, but this one was missing something. There was nothing here that was angry or scary, or shocking.  Nothing showed suffering or poverty, or peasants. Instead, there were lots of works depicting Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China, as a kindly father figure, and China as a beautiful place where good things happen (like hearing that you’ve just won the Nobel Prize).

Additionally, I saw no works by foreign artists. Nothing Korean, Japanese, Russian, Indian, African, European, American. Nothing. Though there was a Chinese artist who made copies of Western works, like this:IMG_6746  Most of the museum goers here will probably never make it to one of the museums in the west that has an original Van Gogh sunflower painting.  Do you think it’s a good idea to show a copy? Is this fraud or forgery? Or is it an honest attempt to expose the audience to Western art? What do you think?

Nudity was also absent except for a few drawings, and male nudity, well, you can see for yourself here:IMG_6807IMG_6830The closest it came to showing ordinary people, I think, was this:IMG_6801They’re urban folk riding the metro, or something like that.

About half of China’s 1.3 billion population are peasants who will never ride the metro. They live in the countryside, surviving on the crops they grow. As recently as thirty years ago, peasants made up more than 80-percent of the population. Yet, in one of the country’s major museums, there’s no sign that they exist at all — at least not among the contemporary art.

Peasants were included, however, in a computer-animated reproduction of China’s most famous painting, the Song Dynasty masterpiece called, Qing Ming on Bian River: IMG_6736This was the highlight of the exhibits. It was really fantastic! To see a few seconds of the walking-talking animation, click here.

Chinese artists have always painted peasants as well as aristocracy (and merchants and all the folks in-between). Chinese artists today are still painting peasants. I saw some of them at the fabulous, but now-defunct Schoeni gallery in Hong Kong last year. They looked like this: IMG_4168IMG_4169IMG_4170IMG_4161 And in catalogues, more peasants:IMG_4174IMG_4175Not pretty. Really disturbing. Kind of punches you in the face, doesn’t it? But peasant life isn’t pretty. It’s hard. They farm their land. If they’re lucky, they might make about $100 a year; most of it is taken in taxes. Life punches them in the face.

Should a major museum ignore half of the population, even if this half never makes it to their doors?

What happens to a society that goes around with only one eye open?

And is that eye really open, if all it sees is Chinese art?

When you’re an author, you have to ask these questions. Your own art should never be done with one eye open. Art comes from truth. And truth requires you to look with both eyes wide open.

My summer adventures to be continued . . . (oh, I’ve turned into such a serial writer!).

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9 thoughts on “What I Did Last Summer

    • Thanks very much, Debbie. I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment. Yes, it’s hard to know if the copied sunflowers are intended to be seen as original art or as a copy trying to expose the audience to art they wouldn’t otherwise see. Art students copy all the time, until they find their own voice, so there’s nothing wrong with copying per se, but to exhibit a copy in a major museum . . . it’s tantamount to plagiarizing a book and having it win a major prize for good plagiarism. Wouldn’t it be better if the museum organized a traveling show of the real stuff?

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      • Such a debatable topic, interesting… I remember trying to copy a piece when I was studying in an art class… felt like such a fraud but certainly made me appreciate the original artist. Hopefully there will be traveling shows in the future. Makes me reflect on those picture books where they look like a copy of originals. Hmm. Important topic to discuss with students!!

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  1. Wonderful Lenore and what thought provoking questions you raise. Fakes are a part of Asia but there is no place for them in a museum where they are portrayed as original art, that is not only disrespectful to the original artist but it is conning the viewer. I loved the art you saw in the museum, were they hairy crabs on sticks? Probably not but it made me smile. Looking forward to the next blog, I’m sure you’ll share your Kung Fu experiences which will bring back memories of your visit to Bradbury last year.

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    • Thanks very much for stopping by, Debra! Yes, “conned” is precisely it. My heart skipped a beat to see that the museum had acquired a Van Gogh — so I hurried over to exam it more closely and became confused when the name of the artist didn’t match the art. Huh??? Imagine if I’d never heard of Van Gogh — I would assume the sunflowers belonged to the Chinese artist. Stay tuned for more adventures! xxoo

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    • Wow, she’s my kind of girl! I love art museums! Has she read the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler? I used to wish I were one of the characters. It’s still my fantasy trip now — to spend a night in the MET 🙂

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